Is Rinse Aid in Your Dishwasher Really Beneficial?

Dishwasher rinse aid is a relatively new concept to me. I don’t recall seeing or hearing about rinse aid products when I was a child, nor do I recall there being a special spot in the dishwasher where you were supposed to deposit one of these products.

What exactly is rinse aid and do you really need to use it in your dishwasher? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

I’ve ignored the rinse aid reservoirs in the dishwashers I’ve had access to during my adult years until now. My husband and I recently bought appliances for our newly purchased house. I want our wonderful new dishwasher to function optimally, so I looked into rinse aids to see if I should be using them.

What is rinse aid?

Rinse aid is a surfactant. Surfactants are substances that reduce the surface tension of water. When surfactants are used in the dish rinsing process, they prevent droplets of water from forming, which speeds the drying process and makes dishes shine.

Are rinse aids beneficial?

There’s no doubt that rinse aids can improve the appearance of dishes, so in this sense they are beneficial. However, when we consider what substances are being used to achieve this end, it becomes more complicated.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), many brands of rinse aid contain ingredients that may be harmful to human health and the environment.

  • Antiredeposition agents: These may cause cancer and have adverse effects on the respiratory, renal, and urinary systems. They are known for causing skin irritation, eliciting allergic reactions, and causing skin damage. They may also cause chronic aquatic toxicity.
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone: This is very toxic to aquatic life.
  • Oxybenzone: This may have adverse effects on human development and on the endocrine and reproductive systems.
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate: This is ecotoxic.
  • Troclosene sodium, dihydrate: This may cause cancer and have adverse effects on the respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, renal, urinary, nervous, digestive, and integumentary systems. It may also cause chronic aquatic toxicity.

When we use rinse aids, these substances get into our water systems and we may ingest them when traces are left on our dishes.

Are there better alternatives to standard rinse aids?

Fortunately, not all rinse aids contain these potentially harmful ingredients. The EWG has identified three rinse aids that it believes are safe based on the data that is currently available: Ecover Rinse Aid, Seventh Generation Free and Clear Rinse Aid, and Nature Clean Rinse Aid.

Some people advocate using vinegar or hydrogen peroxide in place of rinse aid. While these products may help dishes come out looking clean, they do not truly function as rinse aids because they are not surfactants. If you want to try these, please check with the manufacturer of your dishwasher first to make sure they will not damage the dishwasher (e.g., vinegar is acidic and may harm dishwasher components that are exposed to it over time).

As you can see, rinse aid may be convenient in helping your dishes dry quickly and spotlessly, but it definitely isn’t necessary. My family certainly has always managed to get by with some water spots on our dishes! If you want this benefit, then consider choosing a safer version for the sake of your family’s health and the health of the environment.

Do you use rinse aid? Why or why not?

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  1. This was a super helpful post about something that I’ve been wondering about for awhile. I was going to simply use vinegar but now that you mentioned it may harm the dishwasher, I may have to look into it more. I’d love for you to share your post with us over at Simply Natural Saturdays!

  2. I haven’t tried using any rinse aid, just the regular dish detergent. Interesting topic!

  3. This is a very helpful information. Thanks for sharing.

  4. We don’t have a water softener so I was horrified (though not terribly surprised) when all of our dishes and glasses went really cloudy. We tried several rinse aids but found the only thing that really worked was 1/4 cup of vinegar in a glass set in the top rack. I’ve read that you should NEVER use vinegar as a rinse aid as the compartment in dishwashers is not meant for vinegar and will start to deteriorate. Great article!

    • Shannon says:

      The deterioration of certain dishwasher components is what I read about when researching this, as well. It’s interesting that a glass of vinegar set on the top shelf works. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. This was a really interesting read! I’ve never had a dishwasher so it’s not something I’ve ever really come across before. x #FridayFrivolity

    • Shannon says:

      It’s definitely a frequently used product among those with dishwashers. Thanks for stopping by, Jess!

  6. How interesting! I didn’t know rinse aid was a surfactant… I’ve been using vinegar. I’m glad to know better now! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us at #FRidayFrivolity! Pinning and tweeting.

    • Shannon says:

      I’m so glad to have learned all of this myself and am happy to be able to share it with you.

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